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DE RUEHMIL #0080/01 0851002 
P 261002Z MAR 09 




E.O. 12958: DECL : 03/25/2019 


MILAN 00000080 001.2 OF 003 

Classified By: CG Daniel Weygandt. Reasons 1.4 (b) and (d). 

1.1. (U) This is a joint Embassy Rome and Consulate General 

Milan cable. 


12. (C) In an environment of pervasive media coverage of 

violent crime perpetrated by immigrants (despite a 
significant statistical decrease in crime from 2007 to 2008), 
the Northern League (LN) has made political hay out of 
initiatives to bolster security, including its controversial 
initiative to found and promote volunteer neighborhood 
security patrols. Reportedly benign "neighborhood watch" 
style groups, the patrols are criticized by many as a 
mechanism to harass immigrants. Patrols of this kind have a 
long tradition in Italy and have been lent support from 
different political parties over the years - not just the 
Northern League. Embassy and Consulate staff visited a 
particularly notorious Turin patrol to assess the phenomenon 
at its worst. The patrol had a tight anti-immigrant 
ideological bent, and a level of unofficial local police 
support, but seemed to primarily serve as an informal 
surveillance force for the police. Draft legislation to 
legalize the patrols, championed by Minister of Interior 
Roberto Maroni (LN), has drawn criticism from the rest of the 
center-right governing coalition, including from Berlusconi 
himself, as well as the opposition. Still, the patrols are 
politically useful for the Northern League and the party will 
likely continue to promote them in some form, legal or not. 
End summary. 

Background - Volunteer Patrols 

1[3 . (SBU) The Northern League's dramatic increase in vote 
share in the 2008 national parliamentary election (almost 
double its 2006 result but still only 8% nationally) came 
after a campaign waged largely on the theme of domestic 
security. The establishment of new (and highlighting of 
pre-existing) volunteer security patrols (called le Ronde 
Padane or Patrols of Padania - the fictional "country" 
proposed by the Northern League) in cities and towns 
throughout Northern Italy were a key publicity tool in the 
electoral campaign. These grew out of the Green Shirt 
(Camice Verdi) group within the Northern League active in the 
mid to late 1990s used to enforce order at public 

demonstrations (similar to groups organized by other 
political parties on both the left and right). Currently, 
unarmed patrols of volunteers, often organized by local 
Northern League district offices, circulate through a 
particular neighborhood. According to the Northern League, 
these groups walk women to their houses, report the selling 
of drugs to the police, and by their presence stop petty 
crimes such as purse-snatching. Critics note that most of 
the patrols are in immigrant-heavy neighborhoods and allege 
that they are used mainly to harass immigrants. Other 
patrols exist both independent of and sponsored by other 
political parties, but the Northern League patrols have 
gathered the most recent attention and are believed to be the 
most numerous. Many, if not the majority, of the Northern 
League patrols are largely a publicity stunt with little real 
function. Others work closely with local police. 

Undoubtedly, a few have also been involved in physical 
confrontations . 

Neighborhood Watch with Muscle? Up Close with a Turin Patrol 

T_4 . (C) Milan and Rome Poloffs visited a particularly 

notorious patrol in the rough, immigrant-heavy San Salvario 
neighborhood of Turin. By looking at the patrol with one of 
the worst reputations, we sought to gain insight into the 
phenomenon at its most excessive. Founded independent of any 
political party, the San Salvario patrol has been active for 
more than 15 years and now uses the Northern League district 
office as its homebase. While a few elderly residents still 
take part in the patrols, the majority of the force are 
young, muscled laborers, some recently laid off from factory 
jobs. The deputy police chief of Turin joined the meeting 

MILAN 00000080 002.2 OF 003 

and Northern League leaders referred to him as an informal 
advisor of the group. He gave a spirited legal defense of 
the patrols, though only in his personal capacity. The 
patrol stressed it had excellent cooperation with the police 
and noted that police responded to their calls in under two 
minutes on average. They described their work as 
accompanying women and elderly to their homes in the evening 
and identifying drug dealers for the police. Still, some 
comments belied more violent confrontations. One of the 
older members of the group showed off his numerous scars. He 
also proudly displayed a dog whistle, saying that certain 
shopkeepers unleash their dogs to come to his aid when the 
dogs are stirred by the call. All members of the patrol, and 
the district Northern League politicians, professed to have 
received threats from immigrants to their safety and that of 
their families. Still, they noted that official police 
patrols have been beefed up and increased (largely by adding 
Carabinieri forces), and commented that this was having a 
positive effect. They also showed a collection of fliers 
handed out by immigrants in the neighborhood with photos of 
undercover police explaining in Arabic and Italian that they 
were law enforcement officers. 

Northern League Plans for More 

11_5 . (C) Turin-based Northern League European Parliamentarian 

Mario Borghezio, a former leader of the Green Shirts 
considered an extremist even by his colleagues in the 
Northern League, shared his thoughts on the necessity of 
expanding the patrols throughout Northern Italy to Poloffs 
from Rome and Milan. He described the security situation in 
Turin as completely out of control and alleged that North 
African immigrants were bringing in "heavy arms" and hiding 
them in tunnels under the city. He claimed that certain 
neighborhoods had criminal snipers on the rooftops to deter 
and repel law enforcement. He also lamented the infestation 
of Turin with opium dens. (Note: We dismiss these claims as 
posturing by an exuberant politician well known for his 

exaggeration. Statistics indicate that crime is actually 
declining in Turin. The total number of crimes — including all 
minor infractions — committed in the city in 2008 was 150,000, 
down from 170,000 in 2007. When these statistics were 
announced at the end of 2008, Antonio De Vita, provincial 
commander of the Carabinieri said "It is difficult to find 
another city in which the culture of legality is so strong." 
End note.) Borghezio stressed that this "dire" situation 
also exists in other parts of Northern Italy. He maintained 
the patrols help citizens feel safe in their own 
neighborhoods. Borghezio' s legal consultant laid out a draft 
strategy for regularizing and recruiting for the local 
patrols (draft legislation to legalize the patrols sets broad 
parameters while local authorities would draft implementing 
guidelines). According to the legal advisor, the patrols 
should have uniforms, but not armbands or anything that would 
recall fascist paramilitary groups. While they could not be 
armed, he thought providing a dog for each group would 
provide protection and intimidation (he noted explicitly that 
North Africans are especially terrified of dogs). He 
stressed that former police or military personnel should head 
each patrol and that there should be robust training for each 
group. (Comment: The views of Borghezio and his legal 

advisor are quite extreme, but seem to resonate with a 
notable portion of Turin's population. During his visit with 
the poloffs, Borghezio was frequently stopped in the street 
and praised by Turin's residents. This is all the more 
surprising given Turin's reputation as a bastion of the 
center left. Still, the Northern League vote share almost 
doubled in the broader Piedmont region from 6.5% in the 2006 
parliamentary elections to over 12% in 2008. End comment.) 

Looking for Governmental Support 

Vo. (C) A bill before Parliament that has the strong backing 
of Minister of Interior Roberto Maroni, a member of the 
Northern League, would give the patrols a legal status, 
outlining members' rights and responsibilities, and even 
provide some training. Prefect Rodolfo Ronconi, Director of 
the MOI ' s Center on Immigration and Frontier Police, told 
Rome PolOff that MOI would like to develop classes for the 
patrols, and would particularly encourage former policemen 

MILAN 00000080 003.2 OF 003 

and Carabinieri to take part. Ronconi envisioned their role 
as calling the police and serving as a deterrent. The patrols 
would have no specific authorities nor would they be attached 
to a political party. Ronconi acknowledged that the 
popularity of the patrols was in response to a perception of 
rising insecurity, not an actual increase in crime, given 
that crime is declining nationwide and in all of Italy's 
major cities. 

Berlusconi Questions Need for Patrols; Opposition Firmly 

T_7 . (C) The Northern League has pushed its anti-immigrant 
agenda too far for the rest of the center-right coalition, 
with Prime Minister Berlusconi ' s People of Liberty balking at 
the most extreme measures, and Berlusconi himself criticizing 
the patrols. Berlusconi told the press in mid-March that he 
did not see the need for the patrols, adding that the whole 
issue has given the opposition an excellent tool. Berlusconi 
said that the Northern League ' s proposal will look to many as 
if it wants to replace the police and other forces of order 
with these volunteers. In fact, the main opposition 
Democratic Party (PD) indicated its strong opposition to the 
patrols. PD Member of Parliament Jean-Leonard Touadi told 
PolOff that "violence must be a monopoly for the state." If 
there is a security problem, Touadi said, the forces of the 

state should be strengthened. He added that PD fears that if 
these groups are empowered, it will be difficult to disband 


f.8 . (C) The Northern League may fall short in its effort to 
get Parliament's approval for the patrols, but in an 
environment of perceived rising insecurity, the patrols will 
be an effective campaign tool for the Northern League in 
advance of the June European Parliament elections. Continued 
regular press stories about dramatic criminal cases often 
involving immigrants will lead many voters to conclude that 
Italy's cities are becoming more dangerous, and they will 
appreciate that the Northern League is reacting. Senior 
Northern League politicians, such as Minister of Interior 
Maroni, seem to be well aware that the patrols need to be 
regulated to curb their excesses (and not alienate moderate 
LN supporters), thus proposals to provide training and 
include former police and military officials in the patrols. 
Our contacts tell us that LN is expected to continue to grow 
across the north, particularly in Piedmont and Veneto, and 
that the party will stretch even further south than in the 
2008 national elections when it did well in Emilia Romagna. 
The patrols should be seen within this political context. End 
comment .